Monrovia – Revamping Liberia’s health sector is far-fetched as the Ministry of Health admits to not having money for the placement of new doctors on the payroll.
In addition to inadequate medical facilities and lack of clinical equipment for proper diagnosis, shortage of doctors in the country has been a major issue having a great toll on the health sector.
Currently, there are only 298 doctors available to the country’s 4.5 million population.
Despite the urgent need to astronomically improve on the doctor per patient ratio which stands at 1:15,000 opposed to the WHO standard of 1:5,000, young doctors coming out of the A.M. Dogloitti Medical College and others who got their training outside the country, having served their internship, don’t stand the chance of being employed by government.
“We are not saying that we are refusing to enroll them on the payroll, we are short on money. We started paying them allowances but they want to get on the payroll and we don’t have money for that,” the Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Health, Sorbor George, told FrontPage Africa.
“They are being paid their allowances as per the counties they are assigned. "
"Those in Montserrado are being paid little over US$1,149.00, those in Bong, Grand Bassa Counties are being paid US$1,250, those in the southeast like Grand Gedeh and Maryland are earning US$1,500.00.”
“We believe that they are our doctors, but we are short of money in the procurement cut and we told them either you wait until you get money to be placed on the payroll or they abandon what you are getting now or get into private life, but we are doing our best at the ministry."
"The allowance is not something small, they should be happy that they are being paid that amount.”
Many of these young doctors, 35 in number, are threatening to lay down their tools or move on to private hospitals if they are not placed on payroll.
“We got our licenses on October 1, 2016, and since then, we haven’t been placed on government of Liberia payroll and we were assigned since November 2016.
Since November till now, we haven’t received Government of Liberia pay but only the incentive,” one of the doctors who spoke on anonymity told FrontPage Africa.
According to him, those assigned in rural areas are given US$1,050 and L$30,000 as incentives while those based in Monrovia receive US$950 and L$30,000, but such amounts, he said, are not forthcoming regularly.
The aggrieved doctors told FPA that they communicated their grievance to the ministry and the Senate and House Chairmen of the health committee, but their plight is yet to be addressed.
“We have to leave the hospital and run after the payroll; we went to Civil Service Agency, Ministry of Finance and others and also those on payroll aren’t regularly receiving their incentive,” they lamented.
According to them, Minister of Health, Dr. Bernice Dahn, told them that the government was financially incapacitated to have them on regular salary.
“She told us that the Government has no money to put us on salary, and if we wish to continue our 2 years’ service in the absence of the salary, we could because the ministry has no funds, or if we wish to defer we can also do so,” they said.
They also lamented that they are unable to stop rendering services to the government because their documents are still being held by the medical college.
“Now you find most doctors going private because the government doesn’t see good in us so they prefer bringing in foreign doctors to get more cash to investing in us who endure suffering, hunger and had to read through books with a candle at the only medical college.
“It’s disheartening because many at times we have to abandon our patients in the hospital to run behind our welfare. We see it like Liberia has reached its doctor threshold because since we completed our internship, we haven’t been placed on payroll,” they added.
Hopes were high of improvements in Liberia’s health system following last month’s dedication of the US$5 million ELWA hospital built by Samaritan Purse International, and the allotment of over US$77 million in the 2016/2017 national budget for the country’s health sector.
But the imminent threat of a go-slow by doctors in Liberia has made many to rethink the validity of the dangling gains made so far since the end of the Ebola outbreak.
Building a resilient health sector, according to the government, has grabbed media headlines ever since the end of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak.
Experts weighing in on the catastrophe have alluded that a broken-down and under-supported health system were factors that escalated the outbreak – killing thousands.
When the virus hit Liberia back in 2014, health workers were then expressing exasperation over delayed salary arrears. Later they staged a go-slow and that even put attempts to respond to the early stage of the outbreak out of control.
But the Ministry of Health, despite significant allocations in the country’s budget with support from international partners, continues to struggle in sorting out an efficient system to ensure the regular payments of health workers including doctors that are already scarce in the country.